My Heart Is Full Of Nick Ward's Ankles Comment Count

Brian January 15th, 2018 at 12:56 PM

1/13/2018 – Michigan 82, Michigan State 72 – 15-4, 4-2 Big Ten


You may be aware that many college athletes with the option leave early for the pros.

I, too, am aware of this phenomenon because it has impacted me repeatedly. I am at peace with some of these departures. Win a big thing, do a business, and/or scrape the ceiling of your potential and I'm cool with it. Charles Woodson, Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Jack Johnson: go on, get out of here.


Other guys absolutely should not and do not have to listen to my feelingsball about their careers, but their departures sting because they're on the verge of an all-conquering season that we never get to see. They leave Michigan without an indelible moment, or cathartically satisfying victory, or without setting several college towns across the Midwest ablaze with their mind.


That's mostly fine; I'm not going to tell anyone to not get paid if they can get paid. But their careers at Michigan will perpetually feel a little incomplete. Guys in this bucket: DJ Wilson, Max Pacioretty, Mitch McGary, and yeah probably even Jabrill Peppers. The first thing I think about when any of those guys gets brought up is what could have been and was not. Nobody's fault. Just a thing. If "oh God what if DJ Wilson was on this team" didn't flash across your mind at some point during this week, you're a more serene man that I.


Anyway, Moe Wagner can go now.

Moe Wagner could announce he's leaving the team this afternoon and I'd be fine with it*. Moe Wagner induced the most beautiful and futile Michigan State floor-slap of all time from Nick Ward's face. My heart is as full of Moe Wagner as it needs to be, for all time.


*[Note to Moe Wagner: please do not call this bluff.]


That there is a rest of the season after the events of this week is promising and also somewhat alarming. If Michigan could pull a Costanza here and immediately leave the meeting I would counsel them to do so, but there are games scheduled and so we press on. Suddenly every single one of those games except @ Purdue and maybe home against OSU is a game we're going to be real upset about losing, because the Big Ten is bad and Michigan is... very good?

Yes. Poke a rating system and it will tell you this. Kenpom flung Michigan up to 17th after the MSU game; Bart Torvik's system has them 14th. At some point we're probably going to start futzing with the stuff on Torvik's site that allows you to rank teams over an arbitrary period of time, like we did last year. Last year's post-Maverick team was a top ten outfit, period. This one might get there.

If it does, Michigan's ability to play unprecedented Beilein-era defense while simultaneously running a vicious five-out offense will be the reason. The play of the game wasn't actually Wagner turning Nick Ward's ankles into slurry (yes it was –ed) but rather his first pick-and-pop three just a couple minutes into the game. He canned that, and his next one, and aside from that one terrifying period midway through the first half when Jaren Jackson was Dikembe Mutumbo, Wagner's ability to haul his man out to the three point line created driving lanes.

These were less lanes and more caverns against Cassius Winston. Zavier Simpson missed three fast-break bunnies in the first minute, possibly because Jackson was swinging his crazy Gumby arms at them. After that he had 12 points on seven shot equivalents from inside the arc, five assists, and no turnovers. Simpson is coming into his own here, but if you took bets about who was going to be Michigan's most efficient scorer against a team of Ents that's blocking 20% of opponent shot attempts... well, Simpson's odds would have looked a lot like the Vikings'.

Meanwhile on the other end, Winston hit a couple shots but turned it over four times and finished with a game ORTG of 90. Simpson took that dude to the cleaners to the point where Izzo called his point guard out in the post-game press conference. (Izzo would like to make it clear that it's all his fault and he's taking 100% responsibility and also his point guard sucks and he hates him.)

Anyone who tells you they saw that coming short of Zavier Simpson's mom is lying... probably. Maybe there is a cadre of the aggressively reasonable out there, folks who can squint through whatever struggles that freshman or sophomore is having in John Beilein's offense and can see through to the finished product. If there are Michigan versions of these people they are sages indeed. Hypothetical MSU versions just have to look at the court, because whatever Miles Bridges is today he'll be until he escapes Tom Izzo's sweaty, increasingly unhinged paws.

Moe Wagner is one of the country's 40 best defensive rebounders, incidentally. He's a human vacuum now, which is convenient. We have to get the exploded remnants of Nick Ward's lower body off the court before resuming. That's tough, but I've got just the guy for the job.


Obligatory ref rogering section. Michigan State was in the bonus with five minutes gone in each half. This happens every time Michigan plays at Breslin despite Michigan's annual status as one of the nation's most foul-averse teams. (They're less so this year, 93rd instead of top ten, FWIW.)

The only surprising thing was that it took three minutes for TV Teddy to put a garbage foul on Mo Wagner, who watched Nick Ward fall over—inner ear issues for that dude—of his own volition and got hit with a potentially critical foul that took Michigan's leading scorer out of the lineup. His second foul was similarly phantom. It continued much in that vein:

Michigan had 16 free throws during Tom Izzo Eats His Liver Time; before that they had 19 to MSU's 33. This was not an effect of three point shooting. Michigan had just 15 threes; MSU had 12. Michigan had 14 bonus possessions (+3 OREB and -11 turnovers) and continued attacking inside. Michigan got called for nonsense, and MSU didn't.

This annually makes me furious. It's never going to get any better. But after Michigan was good enough to pull away and force TIEHLT with two minutes left, it's all the more reason to savor the performance. It would have been very, very easy to lose composure. Equivalent performances on a neutral court and Michigan blows the doors off by 20.

How about those free throws, though. Michigan was 18/19 from the line before those four terrifying Simpson misses. If they hit their season average... it does not bear thinking about. One dollar to whoever came up with the inbounds play where Simpson and MAAR swapped roles after the whistle blew. That got a 91% shooter to the line instead of a 52% shooter.

Simpson's performance at the line is increasingly inexplicable with every three he cans. He's verging on having a better 3PT% (47%) than FT% (52%). He was at 71% last year on 31 attempts, and he's a much better shooter this year. I don't get it. Hopefully it's salvageable. Having two non-big 50% FT shooters on the floor is rough.

D up. I caught a couple more Jordan-Poole-gets-caught backcuts on the replay; those stood out as almost the only easy buckets MSU got all game. Remember MSU running off of makes for 6-10 points for the last five years? Yeah, that's gone. MSU had almost literally zero transition offense.

This is a trend. Ace mentioned this on the podcast: Michigan's transition D is absurd.

Now that the rest of the D is actually pretty good that's paying off more and more.

Duncan was okay, and this is a big W. Michigan largely got away with Duncan Robinson versus Jaren Jackson. Jackson got a couple buckets on him, but Robinson was able to push Jackson out almost to the three point line repeatedly. MSU was trying to force the ball down Robinson's throat to the detriment of their offensive flow, and several possessions featured MSU wasting half the shot clock trying to exploit that matchup.

With Livers in foul trouble for a chunk of the game Michigan's ability to cope with Duncan Robinson on a top 5 NBA draft pick was a huge factor in the W.

Rebounding: real. I'm calling it: Michigan is a legitimately excellent defensive rebounding team. They just played the two burliest teams in the league and outrebounded both. They've also played Iowa, which is the top OREB team in league play, and fought them to a standstill.

I enjoy Jon Teske. Teske had 3 OREBs in just 8 minutes here and put up 4 points on 3 shot equivalents; he committed three fouls, but see above about the impossibility of a Michigan shot-challenger staying on the court at Breslin.

As a bonus Austin Davis didn't look overwhelmed during his two minutes, grabbing a board and playing a couple of defensive possessions well. Never write off a big.



January 15th, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

I'm guessing Brian is looking at fouls per possession. Michigan plays at such a slow pace that you have to look at tempo-free numbers to get an accurate picture. For example, for years now, looking at Michigan's points per game numbers would have led you to believe that we were a defense oriented team carrying a mediocre offense because our points allowed and scored per game were both very low. In reality, of course, the opposite has been true (great offenses, mediocre defenses), but you can't tell unless you look at the tempo-free numbers because our pace of play screws up per game averages.


January 15th, 2018 at 1:09 PM ^

This happens every time Michigan plays at Breslin despite Michigan's annual status as one of the nation's most foul-averse teams. (They're less so this year, 93rd instead of top ten, FWIW.)

Does anyone know what this was before the MSU game? If we're still 93rd after that, I'm guessing it was much higher beforehand. 


January 15th, 2018 at 1:11 PM ^

What's remarkable to me about the ankle-breaker highlight (which is always good for a viewing or two whenever I see it posted) is that Ward doesn't lean awkwardly the wrong way the way so many ankle-break victims do. He actually cuts to follow Mo, and then just melts away in Mo's fiery wake.

Between this, the hockey sweep, and the fun of the Vikes game (I'm a Lions fan but I don't hate them and have a lot of friends out here) it's been a fun sports weekend.


January 15th, 2018 at 1:20 PM ^

I don’t understand empty feelings some of those players. DJ Wilson was part of very memorable B1G tournament championship run + beating Louisville last year. McGary was key on final four run in 2013 but the following year I understand because what could’ve been if he hadn’t been suspended for dumb NCAA rules. Of course if all players didn’t leave early the following teams would be better and could possibly achieved more, but those players did have major accomplishments. One I always questioned was Manny Harris leaving to go undrafted.

N. Campus Tech

January 15th, 2018 at 2:16 PM ^

Mitch was an out of shape freshman for the 2012-2013 season. He got his shit together for the magical 2013 NCAA run.

2013-2014 he was hurt the whole season. He was set to come back for 2014-2015 but he got busted for pot at the end of the NCAAs.

We never got a full season of Mitch. All we got out of him was the 2013 NCAA and that was it.


January 15th, 2018 at 1:17 PM ^

I still don't think it was appropriate to call them the "Fightin' Larry Nassars".

I mean, that implies they were doing something.

Maybe better to call them the "Aidin' N' Abettin' Larry Nassars"?


January 15th, 2018 at 1:19 PM ^

Awesome game and write up. One area for concern: Those X free throws at the end really fucked me up. His and Matthews' free throw shooting could decide a game come tournament time. 


January 15th, 2018 at 1:21 PM ^

as a head coach, and he is starting to really rack them up.  There is not a coach out there who gets more out of his players.  Dantonio actually does a good job of this I think but lets praise nothing about MSU ever because I hate them.  Not worried about the FT, if anyone can teach a 20 year old kid to shoot a FT, it is johnny.

All Day

January 15th, 2018 at 1:27 PM ^

I know it doesn't fit the meme, but the Livers call wasn't made by Valentine. In fact, I thought most of the worst calls were made by his crew mates.

JWG Wolverine

January 15th, 2018 at 1:28 PM ^

“Michigan is a legitimately excellent defensive rebounding team.”

This and the praise of our free throws are just excellent music to my ears!!

So proud of this team, time to keep up the good work tonight!

Go Blue!

Steve in PA

January 15th, 2018 at 1:33 PM ^

Livers struggled with when to switch/not switch in the lane.  Sparty got at least 6 out of that situation.  He will get better but until he does quality opponents will exploit that.

I think this team will get much better before the end of the season and set up nicely for a run at tournament time.  They are not playing at their potential yet.


January 15th, 2018 at 1:39 PM ^

Name me the players that have gotten significantly better under Izzo in the last 10-15 years. I can think of like two: Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. Even for those guys, it took a full 4 years. For Beilein I could throw a dart at a board of players and I'd probably hit one.



January 15th, 2018 at 2:12 PM ^

Nix? Top 75 player in the country who never averaged dbl figures in his career and seemed to have constant conditioning issues.

Lucas was solid throughout his career. But, again, he's a borderline 5* coming out of high school who stays for the full 4 years. My expectations there are early NBA Draft entry.


January 15th, 2018 at 2:18 PM ^

Also, while we're on Payne, we can talk about Branden Dawson. Consensus 5* who almost got worse as his career went on. Solid senior year basically due the fact that he was a 22 year old built like Adonis, playing against younger guys. Izzo didn't help him improve his basketball skills one iota.

N. Campus Tech

January 15th, 2018 at 2:38 PM ^

Kalin Lucas was a 4 star in high school that didn't get drafted into the NBA. I think he could have accomplished that at Eastern Michigan.

Suton... ok.

Nix wasn't really a starter until his senior season. Still didn't get drafted.

Ariene Payne is one of those guys where you wonder how Izzo got him to stick around for four years. Anywhere else he would have been a one and done.


January 15th, 2018 at 2:44 PM ^

Not at all. Totally misused and underutilized throughout his career.

Izzo turned a 6'11" guy with decent vision and a jump shot with range into a guy who just played the bouncer part down low. Probably one of the starkest differences in coaching that I've noticed in the past decade between Izzo and Beilein. 


January 15th, 2018 at 3:48 PM ^

I decided to go back to 2003 (just a random year selected), and see the highly rated recruits (Top 100 based on 247sports ranking) MSU has brought in, and how they did in college (and if they had a pro career (NBA/overseas)).

TLDR Version:
Number of players who played to their high rating, improved every year at MSU, or were a diamond in the rough: 10 players (Neitzel, Suton, Morgan, Lucas, Summers, Green, Payne, Trice, Harris, Valentine)

Number who didn't play to their potential based on ranking: 16 players (Brown, Naymick, Gray, Herzog, Dahlman, Allen, Roe, Lucious, Nix, Sherman, Appling, Byrd, Dawson, Costello, Kaminski, Davis)

Number who are TBD: 6 players (McQuaid, Bridges, Langford, Winston, Ward, Jackson)

(4) Shannon Brown - Highest rated on the list. 3 years at MSU with a great JR year. 408 games in the NBA (only 60 starts). Currently in the NBA G-League
(63) Drew Naymick - Below average 5 years at MSU. Playing overseas.

(26) Marquise Gray - Terrible 4 years at MSU. 
(48) Drew Neitzel - Improved every year, great Jr and Sr year. NBA D-League, retired in 2011.
(119) Goran Suton - Improved every year. Playing overseas.
2005: None in the Top 100

(34) Raymar Morgan - Great 4 year career, playing overseas now
(47) Tom Herzog - Garbage at MSU, transfer to UCF for 4th year in college.
(87) Isaiah Dahlman - Garbage 4 years at MSU

(31) Kalin Lucas - Great 4 years at MSU, playing overseas. 
(40) Durrell Summers - Improved every year for 4 years at MSU, never a great player. NBA D-League and playing overseas.
(45) Chris Allen - Bad 3 years at MSU, transfer to Iowa St for senior year

(15) Delvon Roe - Below average 3 years at MSU, ended career with knee injury. Currently an actor.
(69) Draymond Green - Great 4 years at MSU, got better every year. NBA All-Star
(78) Korie Lucious - Terrible 3 years at MSU, transfer to Iowa St.

(76) Derrick Nix - Bad 3 years, then good 4th year at MSU. Playing overseas.
(80) Garrick Sherman - Terrible 2 years at MSU, transfer to ND

(22) Adreian Payne - Great Jr and Sr year at MSU. NBA and NBA D-League injury problems.
(37) Keith Appling - Decent 4 years at MSU. Currently in jail.
(96) Russell Byrd - Terrible 3 years at MSU. 

(17) Branden Dawson - OK 3 years, great senior year at MSU. NBA, NBA D-League, overseas career.
(188) Travis Trice - Good to great career at MSU. NBA, D-League, overseas. 

(19) Gary Harris - Great 2 years at MSU. Good NBA player.
(89) Matt Costello - Average 4 years at MSU. NBA D League.
(95) Kenny Kaminski - 1 bad year at MSU. Transfer to Ohio (in the MAC).
(112) Denzel Valentine - Great Jr and Sr year at MSU. In the NBA. 

2013: None in the top 100.
2014: None in the top 100.
(26) Deyonta Davis - Average Fr season. Left for the NBA. Injuries sideline the 31st overall pick.
(71) Matt McQuaid - In his 3rd year at MSU. Bench player who can hit 3's at a 37% clip in his career.

(12) Miles Bridges -
(19) Josh Langford -
(31) Cassius Winston - 
(42) Nick Ward - 

The consensus is still out on these 4. I think Langford is the most improved from Fr to So year. Bridges could've went pro but came back and hasn't found his role yet. Winston and Ward look like they'll be 4 year college players and end up playing overseas.

(8) Jaren Jackson - Looks like an NBA player, needs to start playing like one. Will likely go pro, but you never know with MSU players. 




January 15th, 2018 at 4:19 PM ^

Thanks!  This is what I love about MGoBlog.  Somebody will do the hard work and let you know the facts.  What is most interesting to me was that Izzo had some mediocre and down recruiting years. I would think a fully examination of his player development skills requires a broader perspective.  Developing them into human beings (Scott Skiles!) has been more difficult!  ;-) 



January 15th, 2018 at 5:06 PM ^

So Green is the only 4 star type/ non top 30 player that got drafted and played in the NBA.

If you aren't an elite prospect, it doesn't seem like it would make much sense to choose MSU over U of M. For example, Johns would seem to have made the easy decision.


January 15th, 2018 at 5:42 PM ^

Not included since they weren't on 247sports database were Jason Richardson, Zach Randolph, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Paul Davis, Marcus Taylor, Charlie Bell, and anyone else from 1995 - 2003. Those are all strong college players (I think), and at least 3 (off the top of my head) went on to have success in the NBA (J-Rich, Randolph, Mo-Pete).

Seems like Izzo's best years were the late 90's/early 00's, and has been living on those years to excuse his lack of elite national success.

I mean, he's still won the conference regular season in 09, 10, and 12, and the tourney in 12, 14, and 16 with 3 recent final fours in 09(and championship game), 10, and 15. Finished in the Top 3 in the conference regular season from 2011 to 2015, and the last time he's finished out of the top 5 in the conference was in 2006. They consistently win, but have trouble winning the big games against other elite teams. He's 11-8 vs Michigan since 2008, but only 7-8 vs Michigan since 2011. 


January 15th, 2018 at 6:06 PM ^

Izzo was an elite coach in the late 1990s and early 2000s because he got his team to rebound and play hard, and since everyone was trying to play that game, it was enough to do it well.

But he's not adapted well to modern basketball and others have passed him. Now, almost every player coming out of high school can bomb it from three so having guys post up and clog the lane isn't as effective as spreading it out and letting players shoot it.

The fact that he's playing two bigs, often both playing the post or running a hi-low game which prevents guys like Bridges from slashing isn't good offense.

They should start Jackson as the only big, put McQuaid and Langford in the corners and let the PGs and Bridges run pick-and-rolls all day. Ward backs up Jackson.  It's not rocket science.  But he's too obsessed with big burly "tough" rebounders (he did similar things with Nix and Payne).

This is why their only trip to the final four since 2010 was a fluke that got bombed by 20 once they got there (and why their NCAA record in the past 7 seasons is a mediocre 12-7, given their talent and the March reputation of Izzo).


January 15th, 2018 at 6:27 PM ^


I agree with everything you said. Especially you're recommendation for how they should be playing right now.

Imagine all that space in the middle for Winston, Langford, and Bridges to attack if they only play 1 big at a time.

You'd have 4 guys all capable of hitting the 3, 3 very athletic slashers, and one big guy who can also stretch the floor (Jackson).

Like you said, it's not rocket science, but he likes to preach rebounding and defense, even if it's at the expense of losing basically all of Bridges elite athleticism on offense. 

Pepper Brooks

January 15th, 2018 at 1:40 PM ^

"Moe Wagner induced the most beautiful and futile Michigan State floor-slap of all time from Nick Ward's face."

Thank you, Brian!  I will remember this line every time I see sparty's silly floor slapping.


January 15th, 2018 at 1:54 PM ^

Izzo is the anti-Beilein.  Beilein of course is the ultimate example of a guy paying his dues and working his way up the ladder, starting as a high school coach and winding up at Michigan, many stops later.

Izzo, in contrast, had a much shorter path to his current job.  He got to be an assistant at MSU while still in his 20s.  When Heathcoate retired he was given the job, despite having no head coaching experience.  How often do you see a high D-I job go to someone like that?

And the good fortune contined. Halfway through his first season, his in-state rival's nationally prominent program began to unravel, starting with the rollover accident.  We went through an NCAA investigation, fired our successful coach, replaced him with an awful one, went through another NCAA investigation over the same issues, replaced the awful coach with a mediocre one, and limped along at the NIT level for years until we finally hired Beilein. And by that time our program was totally off the national radar and Beilein needed time to build it back up.

In the meantime, Izzo lived the charmed life.  He got every in-state player he wanted.   Everything was so easy for him.  Game against Michigan coming up at the Breslin?  Bring in the recruits, they'll be sure to see a big MSU win.  

But the free ride finally ended.  Beilein got us off the mat and now we're a Big Ten power.  He's 8-7 against Izzo since 2011, and is winning some recruiting battles against him now.  Izzo isn't taking this well.  Now he's acting like a spoiled child whose toys have finally been taken away.

Two in row against the guy now.  Let's hope we can keep that up.


January 15th, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

Brian's second group, those who left too early, leaving us with what might have been, is a fun (and simultaneously maddening) exercise, but for me, the king of that bucket is Drew Henson, for several reasons.

1). Michigan's three losses in 2001 were because of one bad second at MSU, one bad minute at Washington, and one bad quarter against OSU.  Henson, playing instead of sophomore John Navarre, might be able to salvage at least two of those.  Considering Michigan beat Big Ten champion Illinois, they easily head back to the Rose Bowl, in my mind.

2). He left to pursue baseball.

Senior Drew Henson, as the starter, coming off a 16 TD/4 INT season, throwing to a fully operational Marquise Walker, handing off to Askew and Perry in the backfield...


January 15th, 2018 at 2:48 PM ^

That 2001 team had a lot of problems. Of course, a huge one was a not-ready-for-primetime QB, but remember that the offensive tools elsewhere were not good. And yet still they should have beaten both MSU and Washington, and made it close with OSU despite QB play that John O'Korn thinks was pretty bad. 

FWIW the Rose Bowl that year was the national title game, and had Michigan somehow managed to squeeze into it (not totally implausible given the carnage at the end of the season that resulted in a Nebraska team that had just been humiliated by Colorado and didn't make its conference title game getting in, though I doubt Lloyd could avoid losing a headscratcher to keep us out) we'd be an overrated #2 team and we would've been absolutely demolished by Miami that year.

But it still wouldn't taste as bad as 2001 did at the time, a year in which we were bad even in the game we won and were embarrassed by Tennessee to close things out.